By Sally Arguilez Smith
Parent worries about the financial burden associated with the start of public school have lessened because of new rules in the San Diego Unified School District. When elementary, middle and high schools open on Sept. 7 schools will no longer charge for p. e. uniforms and students’ grades will not be lowered if they don’t buy the school uniform. Students will not be required to buy calculators for math courses. Athletes will not be required to buy ASB cards, spirit packs or sports uniforms to play soccer or any sport.
Superintendent Bill Kowba announced this month that staff will not charge fees to students because public education is free. The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the school district asking for an end to all fees and a refund of those that have been collected. The pioneering case, Hartzell v. Connell, is well-settled law now, 25 years later. San Diego Unified School District has had ample notice to comply with the law. All staff are being trained that public education is free with very few exceptions. Local schools have hidden fees in course descriptions, teacher syllabi, student handbooks, and sports participation. Students were required to buy guitars for guitar class, cameras for photography class, calculators for mathematics courses, and other school supplies.
California law is clear. If fees are not authorized in the Education Code then no charges can be made. Here is some of the court opinion.
Hartzell v. Connell (1984) 35 Cal. 3d 899, 201 Cal. Rptr.601; 679 P 2d 35 [L.A. No. 31701. Supreme Court of California. April 20, 1984.]
The California Constitution requires the Legislature to “provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district ….” (Cal. Const., art. IX, § 5, italics added.) [35 Cal.3d 905] This provision entitles “the youth of the State … to be educated at the public expense.” (Ward v. Flood (1874) 48 Cal. 36, 51.) That means that schools must provide schools supplies such as pencils and paper and other supplies.
The court said that all educational activities – curricular or “extracurricular” – offered to students by school districts fall within the free school guarantee of article IX, section 5.
“The free school guarantee lifts budgetary decisions concerning public education out of the individual family setting and requires that such decisions be made by the community as a whole. Once the community has decided that a particular educational program is important enough to be offered by its public schools, a student’s participation in that program cannot be made to depend upon his or her family’s decision whether to pay a fee or buy a toaster.”
Schools cannot require students to show that they do not have money to pay for band instruments or sports uniforms. Schools cannot ask students to prove their income level.
Parents can request a refund of a student fee by submitting a claims form to the district’s legal office which can be obtained by calling (619) 725-5630.